The Word and other stories
So tonight’s post is an ode to a lost age. It was an age when music mattered more than life itself - kinda - and when those who documented it were like gatekeepers to a secret garden.
At this point you think I must be talking about the 60s or 70s but that was before my time. No, I’m thinking about the next decade and a half. My coming of age period. I would like to claim - and often do - that I grew up listening to The Smiths, New Order and The Fall. But who am I kidding? No, my 80s in not so sunny Manchester in the early 80s had a different soundtrack - hello, Soft Cell, Human League and first ropey period Bowie! When later I developed what I thought was taste, I was disdainful of my youthful folly. The first (and last) record review I ever wrote was a scathing indictment of Let’s Dance. Oh the shame when a girl I fancied introduced me to the wonders of the thin white duke.. Writing it down now, it’s not such a bad list. There was more - Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet (GOLD!) and A-Ha. Yes, you may mock but that Take On Me video was like looking into the future. It wasn’t, but hey, I was a kid.
But back to the point. The 80s and early 90s were the last period of truly great music writing. OK, it wasn’t Julie Burchill and Nick Kent, granted. But it was still Smash Hits at it’s towering best and Sounds, the NME and the Maker were still a must buy every week. It was writing by people who were writing about stuff they loved. Stuff you may never have heard of but the enthusiasm and wit of those writers would send you out to HMV - and whatever the dodgy cheap import store was - with the sense that unless you got that record you were missing out. That you’re life was incomplete. That somehow the world was a step ahead of you unless you came home with that 7 or 12 inches of vinyl.
But that was then and this is now. And now I’m in a country that doesn’t really do music journalism. Not that the UK is better - the NME is practically unreadable. But there is still hope and that hope has a name: The Word. It’s a magazine that every ex-music journalist I know either writes for or subscribes to. Or both. It’s a collection of the best writers from that period writing about stuff they love because, well, that’s the point. Just read this opening paragraph from editor, Mark Ellen:
In the formal, fully indemnified world of the modern music business, you’d be unwise to put your manager in a drum case and roll him down the stairs. There would be repercussions. Rumours of “unprofessional conduct”. Suits and counter-suits. Names blackened forever. Yet this is precisely what happened when Robert Stigwood arrived to “help produce” the album Fresh Cream.”
How can you not read on? It’s just stunning writing. I want to pin it to the door in my office and tell everybody ‘this is how you start an article/press release/post’. And the quality and passion run through the entire magazine. It’s rare that I don’t read every word of each issue, regardless of the subject matter. It’s like a masterclass in how to write engaging copy.
It’s not the only example. Mojo Magazine is more worthy but still hires the likes of Charles Shaar Murray and Paul Morley. My great friend Paul Gorman writes an astonishing blog on fashion and music at The Look. Neil Mason, one of my oldest friends and former Maker/NME scribe, blogs passionately about new music at My New Favourite Band. And, of course, the spirit of Smash Hits is kept very much alive at Pop Justice.
It’s just a great, great shame that the baton never got passed. That the decline of the music industry went hand in hand with the decline of proper music writing. Should I really have to pay $14 to get what used to cost 60p? And as for Toronto - Now is headed for the Dumpster.